A GROUP of friends have rowed the English Channel and raised £10,000 in memory of their friend who died of bone cancer, aged just 24.

Toby Atkinson, who used to go to Mayflower High School, in Billericay, was diagnosed with the acute cancer when he was 21.

Toby’s friends Dominic Burnett, Chris Baxter, Peter Frings, Pete Chalkley rowed from Dover to Calais on Sunday to raise cash for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

He had been suffering from a pain in his knee for a few months, but didn’t think it was anything too serious, so didn’t go to the doctors.

Toby, who loved playing squash and sports, finally went to the doctors after the pain persisted and his knee continued to swell up.

After undergoing X-rays, Toby, who was in the middle of an economics degree at Bath University, was told he had severe bone cancer.

Toby’s mum Helen Atkinson, of Cromwell Avenue, Billericay, said: “Unfortunately for Toby it was just too late.

“As soon as the doctors saw his knee, they knew it was more than just normal swelling.

“Toby was taken from us far too early, but we really want to raise awareness of bone cancer and how serious it can be.

“If it’s caught early, then it can be a different story. If anyone has pains or swelling which persist, get them checked.”

After Toby was diagnosed, he underwent a big operation and had a large amount of his thigh muscle taken out and replaced with titanium joint so could walk again.

After three years of chemotherapy and going through clinical trials, Toby was told by doctors there was nothing more that could be done for him, he died peacefully at home in 2009 with his family.

The Bone Research Trust says swelling, joint pain, tingling, muscle weakness and skin numbness can all be symptoms of the disease.

Pete, 32, from Finsbury Park, who was one of the rowers and a university friend of Toby, added: “Toby was genuinely a totally inspirational guy.

“His incredible spirit, energy, lust for life, kindness and his uniquely cheeky mile-wide smile was felt by everyone who knew him.

“I know he’d be chuckling at the idea of such inexperienced rowers taking on The Channel.

“Given the chance, he would be jumping in the boat and grabbing an oar himself.”

The group kept a blog of its training and experiences, which can be read at www.thechannelfour.org .uk